04 March 2014 18:10

Buffer zone - UNFICYP - 40 years after the 1974 Turkish invasion of Cyprus these notions are, unfortunately, as relevant to Cypriots - Greek Cypriots and Turkish Cypriots alike - as they were when they were first introduced to this Eastern Mediterranean island.

The reason being, all UN-led efforts to reunite the country have so far failed. A fresh effort is currently underway in an attempt to end Turkey's occupation and allow the two communities to live together in peace.
The Cyprus News Agency, to mark 50 years since the arrival of the UN Peace Keeping force in Cyprus (UNFICYP) in March 1964, following the unanimous adoption by the Security Council of resolution 186 on March 4, 1964, asked permission to accompany UN personnel on their patrol in the UN-controlled buffer zone which would include the fenced off area of Turkish occupied Famagusta. Our request was partially granted - Famagusta, under the control of the Turkish military, is out of bounds, inaccessible to us, we were told.
CNA accompanied UNFICYP soldiers, serving with Sector 4, on their patrol in the buffer zone, in Pyla village and the headquarters of this Sector, in Famagusta. Their job is hardly ever highlighted or perhaps reported. It is however a "necessary evil" for an island, whose northern part remains under foreign occupation.
Since the de facto ceasefire in August 1974, UNFICYP has supervised the ceasefire line and maintained a buffer zone between the Turkish and Turkish Cypriot forces in the north and the Greek Cypriot forces in the south.
Currently, about 860 troops serve on a rotating basis. The largest troop contributors are Argentina and the United Kingdom, followed by Slovakia and Hungary.
The military presence is spread over three sectors, Sectors 1, 2 and 4. Sector 3 ceased to exist when Canada withdrew from UNFICYP in 1993 and Sectors 2 and 4 took over the territory. Following a review and troop reduction in 2004, UNFICYP troops no longer man each observation post on a permanent basis. Instead, they patrol the buffer zone on foot, on bicycle, by helicopter or in a vehicle.
Sector 4 is under the responsibility of the Slovak, Hungarian and Serbian Contingent. Also participating are Croatia and the Ukraine with two peacekeepers each. The responsibility of the Sector is to patrol and monitor military activity over 65 km along the buffer zone, beginning at the east end of Kaimakli village (a Nicosia suburb) and ending at the village of Dherynia on the east.
The British Sovereign Base Area near Dhekelia extends between two points of the buffer zone - Pyla village and Strovilia village - and is outside the area of responsibility of the mission. In the heart of the occupied town of Famagusta lies Sector 4 headquarters, Camp General Stefanik.
The camp was constructed in the 1940s and is an area where Jews found refuge when they travelled to Cyprus to escape the Nazis. The camp was named after Slovak General  Milan Rastislav ┼átef├ínik. The Serbian peacekeepers are accommodated at camp Nemanja in Pyla while the Hungarian contingent at Camp St. Stephen in Athienou.
Slovak officers Tomas Kurpas and Zuzana Chomut Zapotocna welcome the CNA journalist and photographer at the camp in Famagusta and through slides they explained the responsibilities of Sector 4.
One line company is deployed along both cease-fire lines of the sector's buffer zone; one platoon is headquartered in Athienou, with responsibility for the western half of the Sector; a second platoon is based in Dherynia, with responsibility for the eastern half, including the abandoned town of Varosha; a third platoon is based in Pyla tasked with monitoring military activity in the only bi-communal village inside the buffer zone. Sector 4 contingents also provide personnel for the Mobile Force Reserve and UNFICYP Headquarters.
The areas which are permanently manned are in Varosha and in Pyla, while Strovilia is permanently manned by one soldier seven days a week, 24 hours a day.
Sector 4 also maintains four teams of Military Observer and Liaison Officers - MOLO which are responsible for liaison with their respective counterparts. Those are the Turkish mainland army, the so called Turkish Cypriot security forces, and the Republic's armed forces, the National Guard.
The two officers take us on a tour around the camp which is fully equipped; the camp holds the sector's administration offices, recreation areas, bars, shops, churches, restaurants and accommodation areas.
One of the two churches in the camp is open for worship by African students who attend universities established by the illegal Turkish Cypriot regime in Famagusta. The peacekeepers` main headache is the stray dog problem that is clearly evident in the occupied areas of Cyprus. The dogs enter the camp and can either be a nuisance or company to the peacekeepers.  
The peacekeepers avoid giving out information about their patrols along the fenced off area of Famagusta.
The officers note that the soldiers have a lot of restrictions as to who will patrol along this area, including restrictions on the number of people who take part in the patrols. Sector 4 is also responsible for the buffer zone ship line in the coastal area of Famagusta.

By Emilia Christofo (CNA)
Photos by Katia Christodoulou


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